PuzzleNation Product Review: Zendo

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Experienced puzzlers are familiar with deduction as a puzzle-solving method. They may know it from solving logic puzzles, determining who brought what to Thanksgiving dinner. They may know it from asking questions in Clue in order to eliminate possibilities and figure out who killed Mr. Boddy, where, and how. They may know it from brain teasers, riddles, puzzles, or card games.

But they’ve probably never tried their hand at a deduction puzzle game quite like Zendo.

In Zendo, the players pull pieces from a communal pile in order to build different structures, using pyramids, wedges, and blocks. One player, the moderator, chooses a secret rule for the players to uncover, and builds two structures. One of these structures follows the secret rule, and one does not, and both are marked as such.

Secret rules can be as simple as “must contain all three shapes” or “must contain exactly four pieces.” They can be as complex as “must contain more blue pieces than blocks” or “must contain at least one yellow piece pointing at a blue piece.” Some rules involve how pieces touch, or how they’re stacked, while others demand no touching or stacking whatsoever. The field is wide open at the start of the game.

Players then try to deduce the secret rule by building structures themselves, arranging pieces from the communal pile into various patterns and asking the moderator for more information.

[Can you tell what the rule is by looking at these two structures?]

They can do so in one of two ways. The first is by saying “Tell,” wherein the moderator marks the player’s structure with either a white token or black token, depending on whether the structure fits the secret rule.

The second is by saying “Quiz,” wherein every player guesses whether the given player’s structure fits the rule. Every player who guesses right gets a guessing token.

Guessing tokens, as you might suspect, are spent to guess the secret rule. But the moderator doesn’t answer with a simple yes or no. The moderator instead must build a new structure, which will either fit the secret rule (but not the player’s guess, and get marked with a white token) or fits the player’s guess (but not the secret rule, and gets marked with a black token).

This back-and-forth between players can be frustrating or informative, depending on how specifically you frame your guesses. It also tests the creative mettle of your moderator, which adds a curious wrinkle to the game. Not only are you competing with your fellow players to figure out the secret rule, but you have to deal with the often crafty skills of the moderator.

[Does this second sculpture give you any hints?]

It’s an ever-evolving puzzle that can change in an instant with a new bit of information. You might confirm you’re on the right track, or realize you’ve been looking at the structures incorrectly all along, and you’re back to square one (or, you know, pyramid one or wedge one).

But thankfully, Zendo is easily scalable for solvers of any age or solving skill level. You can keep the secret rule simple or make it complex, depending on who is playing. And if you’re the moderator, you have a free hand in determining how much information your structures reveal.

Like Fluxx and other games under the Looney Labs umbrella, Zendo has tons of replay value, and it’s a puzzle-game that ages well, since solvers with more experience are not only better players, but more devious moderators as well. This is some seriously puzzly fun.

Zendo is available from the crafty crew at Looney Labs, and it’s also featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!


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The New York Times Crossword Cruises and Celebrates!

A few months ago, we told you about The Crossword Crossing, a 7-night transatlantic journey aboard the Queen Mary 2, hosted by Cunard Cruise Line in honor of The New York Times crossword’s 75th anniversary.

Well, the cruise leaves tomorrow, and interest was apparently high, as it’s listed as “sold out” on the Cunard website!

Scheduled speakers include “Wordplay” blogger and crossword guru Deb Amlen, linguist Ben Zimmer, journalist Jane Corbin, historian Simon Newman, and crossword constructors Natan Last and Joel Fagliano.

This cruise caps off an impressive year of celebration for The New York Times crossword. Throughout the year, notable fans of the crossword have been paired with top-flight constructors to try their hand at constructing puzzles of their very own, and the results have been as intriguing as they are impressive.

The last four puzzles in the series in particular pushed the creative envelope in different ways.

Constructor Lynn Lempel tagged in comedian and “The View” host Joy Behar as a partner for the September 26th puzzle, and it was a punny delight. The names of various comedians served as the anchors for puns like PAW PRINZE and PRYOR COMMITMENT. Couple a great theme with interesting fill like DALAI LAMA, KOALA, RESCUE DOG, and BAMBI, and you’ve got a terrific debut puzzle.

October 18th marked not only Brendan Emmett Quigley’s 175th(!) NYT puzzle, but a collaboration with actor John Lithgow. Their puzzle redefined acting terms in clever ways, cluing entries like SUMMER STOCK and STAGE LEFT as “Accountant’s shares in a company?” and “Why one missed the coach?” respectively.

The grid was also loaded with additional thematic words like PROP, DRAMA, WALK-ON, and ACTOR, making for a puzzle positively bursting with style.

It was a marathon of a solve when game designer and puzzler Mike Selinker teamed up with NPR host Peter Sagal for a crossword that actually mapped out the New York City Marathon from Staten Island to the Bronx with entries like FERRY and CHEER. It’s a super-clever theme and layout, and an interesting use of grid space.

Venerated newsman Harry Smith worked with constructor Zhouqin Burnikel for the December 5th puzzle, where they playfully created their own news show. Clues like “Beat reporter?” and “Anchor man?” led to unlikely castings ALLEN GINSBERG and POPEYE THE SAILOR.

It’s been quite a year for what many view as the flagship daily crossword, and apparently there are still a few more celebrity collaborations to come!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Some board games are known for their iconic characters. You know the Monopoly guy, all the folks from Candyland, the mouse from Mouse Trap, the cast of suspects from Clue, and more. But one of the flagship characters from Cheapass Games might be new to you. His name is Doctor J. Robert Lucky, and players have been trying to kill him for twenty years now.

The game Kill Doctor Lucky has taken many forms over the decades — including several versions where players tried to save the infamous doctor instead — but the newest variation takes things in a spookier direction.

In today’s review, we look at Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted.

[Just half of the new game board.]

This expansion includes a new game board and new instructions, but that’s all; everything else you need to play is contained in the Deluxe 19.5th Anniversary Edition of Kill Doctor Lucky, including cards and tokens.

The endgame is also the same: kill Doctor Lucky before another player does. And while the same rules apply — you have to be alone in the room with Doctor Lucky and out of sight of every competitor — this expansion adds one curious wrinkle: all of the players are ghosts.

You see, in Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted, Doctor Lucky is trying to sell off his famous mansion, but the ghosts who also reside there wish for Doctor Lucky to stay, and they’ll go to any lengths to keep him around.

And you might not think that one curious wrinkle could radically change a game, but you’d be wrong. The fact that you’re a ghost means you can pass through walls, ceilings, and floors. That is a huge alteration in both strategy and game mechanics.

You can more quickly maneuver into a room with the Doctor, but you can also thwart your opponents by sneaking into a neighboring room and spoiling their murder attempt by observing the proceedings through an open door.

After all, it saves a lot of time to pass through a wall instead of leaving a room, moving down the hall, and entering the next. (Passing between floors is an even bigger time saver! Slipping through the ceiling and dropping in on someone is a marvelous feeling.)

Factor in the secret portals connecting several of the rooms, and suddenly the mansion is much more accessible.

This expansion harkens back to the early days of Cheapass Games — when they would send you the necessary pieces for their game and encourage you to harvest the extra bits (like dice and tokens) from games you already owned, thereby saving money all around — while adding new touches and revitalizing a game you already know quite well.

Plus, if Kill Doctor Lucky seems less family-friendly than you’d prefer, you can always call this Spook Doctor Lucky and give it a Scooby-Doo-esque twist.

Doctor Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted (and the Deluxe 19.5th Anniversary edition of Kill Doctor Lucky) are available from Cheapass Games. And the expansion is also featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Deluxe Pairs and BRAWL

[Note: I received free copies of these games in exchange for fair, unbiased reviews. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Today, we’re looking at two card games that demand very different approaches to player strategy. The first requires you to patiently and craftily outlast your fellow players, while the other focuses on outmaneuvering your opponent as quickly as possible.

Today, we’re reviewing Deluxe Pairs by Hip Pocket Games and BRAWL by Cheapass Games.

The goal of Pairs is to avoid getting points, and you get points when you draw matching pairs of cards throughout the game.

It’s a bit like Blackjack, except the deck is designed to favor some cards over others. You see, a Pairs deck has one 1 card, two 2 cards, three 3 cards, and so on, all the way up to ten 10 cards. So not only is drawing a 10 dangerous because of its high point value, but it carries the additional risk of being more likely to come up in a deck than, say, a 2 or a 3.

As the dealer works his way around the table, you have the option to either fold or take a card. If you fold, you accept the lowest value card in play, and add those points to your total. If you take a card and end up with a pair, you end up with the value of that paired hand in your total.

The total score to avoid depends on the number of players, but the first person to reach or exceed that score loses, ending the game. So, essentially, this is less a game about winning and more a game about lasting longer than everyone else.

Deluxe Pairs expands on this idea by including a Companion Book with over 30 additional rulesets and variations. Originally, some of these variations were tied to Pairs decks of a specific theme (Deadfall was originally created for a wild west-themed deck, for instance).

But the revamped version of the Fruit Deck — the original Pairs deck — allows you to play all sorts of variations without needing those specialty decks.

BRAWL is about playing out combat in real time between two characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Each character’s deck is made up of hits, clears, blocks, bases, presses, and freezes. Your goal is to score as many hits as possible on your opponent by the time the match is over.

A match starts with each player placing one base card on the table. These represent combat encounters, so you need to play your hits, blocks, and other cards on the base cards for them to work. If you can’t play them, you must place them in your discard pile instead.

Hits and blocks are color-coded, so you have three different kinds: blue, green, and red. Once you’ve played one color on a base, you can only play further hits and blocks of the same color on that base. For instance, if there are only two bases up, and you’ve played a red hit on one and a blue hit on the other, then any green hit cards must be discarded until a third base is played.

Since your deck is shuffled, you won’t know what card you have to play until you draw it, making for a hectic game that mixes strategy with luck and speed. The faster you can react and take advantage of the cards as they come up, the more likely you are to outmaneuver your opponent and score hits.

Once the freeze cards at the bottom of the deck come up, the match is over, and you count up the number of hits on each base. Whoever has more hits wins the base, and whoever wins the most bases wins the game.

Similar to Slapjack and other quick-reaction card games, but with greater options and depth of play, BRAWL is frenetic, but fun. And with six player decks to choose from, experimenting to see which decks work against other decks makes for some serious replay value.

For starting players, I highly recommend using the Bennett and Chris decks in training mode, since they’re more balanced and forgiving for newer players, and the turn-based nature of training mode helps build confidence and experience in spotting opportunities for using your cards.

As you grow more familiar with the game’s mechanics, you can experiment with the nuances of the other characters, as well as introducing additional speed AND additional players in tournament mode.


I thoroughly enjoyed both of these games. They were very different play experiences, obviously, but both forced me to think tactically while remaining quick on my feet. Both games would be welcome additions to any puzzler’s social game collection.

Deluxe Pairs is available here from Hip Pocket Games and the six BRAWL character decks are available here from Cheapass Games. And both of these games are featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

Next week, we’ll be reviewing another game from the Cheapass Games library: Dr. Lucky’s Mansion That Is Haunted.


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Answers to our Thanksgiving Logic Puzzle!

It’s been a week since Thanksgiving, so it’s about time we gave you the answer to our Turkey Day logic puzzle!

In case you missed it, here’s the puzzle:

Connor, Emma, Russell, and Taylor are celebrating Thanksgiving together. To save money, each of them is bringing a different side dish (cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, or yams). Each of them is also bringing a different dessert (apple pie, chocolate cream pie, pumpkin pie, or sugar cookies). With the help of the clues below, can you puzzle out who brought which side dish and which dessert?

1. Emma didn’t bring the green beans, but she did bring pumpkin pie.
2. Connor brought the cranberry sauce, but he didn’t bring chocolate cream pie or apple pie.
3. The person who brought the yams also brought the chocolate cream pie.
4. Taylor brought the green beans.


Okay, last chance to solve it before we give you the solution!

Here we go!


Now, this isn’t as difficult as some of the diabolical brain teasers we’ve tackled in the past, but for someone new to logic puzzles and deduction, a puzzle like this can be daunting.

The key to logic puzzles is to organize your information in a simple and efficient way, so that you maximize the amount of information you glean from each clue.

So let’s list out our four holiday guests and all of the possible food options.

Now, let’s proceed through the clues and fill in our chart.

1. Emma didn’t bring the green beans, but she did bring pumpkin pie.

Since we know nobody brought the same dessert as Emma, we can black out pumpkin pie for everyone else, as well as blacking out the other dessert options for Emma, since each person only brought one dessert.

2. Connor brought the cranberry sauce, but he didn’t bring chocolate cream pie or apple pie.

When you add Connor’s info to Emma’s, you not only get his side dish and his dessert, since he didn’t bring chocolate cream pie, apple pie, or Emma’s pumpkin pie.

3. The person who brought the yams also brought the chocolate cream pie.

At first, this clue doesn’t seem to tell us much, because we don’t know who brought the yams or the chocolate cream pie. But we do know that Emma didn’t bring the chocolate cream pie, so she didn’t bring the yams either.

And if she didn’t bring the yams, the green beans, or Connor’s cranberry sauce, by process of elimination, she brought the mashed potatoes.

4. Taylor brought the green beans.

This last clue ties it all together. If Taylor brought the green beans, then Russell had to bring the yams. And since the person who brought the yams brought the chocolate cream pie, we know that was Russell as well, and Taylor brought the apple pie by default.

And there you have it. All that info in four simple clues.

We hope you enjoyed our little Thanksgiving logic puzzler!


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A Puzzle For Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, PuzzleNationers!

On a day dedicated to celebratingwith family and friends, giving thanks for all the good things in our lives, we here at PuzzleNation want to thank and celebrate our fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, because you help make PuzzleNation one of the greatest puzzle communities in the world today.

And when it comes to saying thanks, a Thanksgiving puzzle seems like the perfect offering.

So we’ve cooked up a little Thanksgiving logic puzzle for you to enjoy!

Can you unravel this holiday puzzler?

Connor, Emma, Russell, and Taylor are celebrating Thanksgiving together. To save money, each of them is bringing a different side dish (cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, or yams). Each of them is also bringing a different dessert (apple pie, chocolate cream pie, pumpkin pie, or sugar cookies). With the help of the clues below, can you puzzle out who brought which side dish and which dessert?

1. Emma didn’t bring the green beans, but she did bring pumpkin pie.
2. Connor brought the cranberry sauce, but he didn’t bring chocolate cream pie or apple pie.
3. The person who brought the yams also brought the chocolate cream pie.
4. Taylor brought the green beans.

Good luck, and Happy Thanksgiving!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!